Afghanistan crisis shows there has been ‘demise’ in UK-US relationship, senior Tory says

‘The relationship is not what it was’

Ashley Cowburn
Political Correspondent
Sunday 22 August 2021 16:10
Today's daily politics briefing

The crisis unfolding in Afghanistan shows there has been a “demise” in the so-called special relationship between Britain and the United States, according to a senior Conservative MP.

Tobias Ellwood, the chair of the Commons Defence Committee, said the UK had “not been included in the conversations” over the withdrawal from the region, adding: “The relationship is not what it was.”

His comments come amid scenes of desperation at Hamid Karzai international airport in Kabul, as thousands of foreign nationals and Afghans granted visas attempt to flee the new Taliban regime.

In an update on Sunday, the armed forces minister James Heappey said 1,721 people had been airlifted from the Afghan capital in the latest 24-hour period by the royal air force, but the defence secretary has also admitted that some may not make it out of the region.

Speaking to Times Radio, Mr Ellwood, who served in Afghanistan, said: “Why is it that we didn’t stand up and tell the United States, if you want to get Afghans out – you have a duty of care for these people who will be pursued by the Taliban – you don’t get your military our first, you get the civilians out, then you retreat yourselves?”

However, he stressed: “We’ve done it the other way round.

“We’ve not been included in the conversations and the one thing we bring to the table – yes we have a certain amount of hard power, we have effective soft power as well – but it is our ‘thought leadership’ that the Americans actually appreciated us for.”

The senior Conservative MP added: “Being able to look at things with an alternative perspective, to provide a different view, and we could have done that but the back channels have disappeared, the relationship is not what it was.

“The consequences of this is that huge geopolitical decisions are being made that I feel could have wider consequences on where Britain and America stand as a force for good in who actually supports and defends the international rules of law.”

The remarks also follow an intervention from the former prime minister Tony Blair, who took Britain to war in the region two decades ago. On Saturday, he used a 2,700-word article to criticise the “imbecilic” decision to withdraw.

He said the UK had “little or no consultation” in the United States’ decision to broker a deal with the Taliban in Doha, Qatar, last year over the withdrawal of troops, warning Britain had “serious reflection to do”.

“We don’t see it yet. But we are at risk of relegation to the second division of global powers. Maybe we don’t mind. But we should at least take the decision deliberatively.”

“The abandonment of Afghanistan and its people is tragic, dangerous, unnecessary, not in their interests and not in ours,” Mr Blair said.

Lord Ricketts, who served as the UK government’s first national security adviser from 2010 to 2012, said the UK will need to “rethink” its foreign policy stance following the United States’ handling of the Afghanistan withdrawal.

“It has been a humiliating period for the UK,” he told Times Radio.

“I’m afraid we’ve learnt that Joe Biden has put US politics ahead of Nato alliance solidarity and Britain hasn’t counted for much in that decision, if anything at all.

He added: “The hard fact is we are going to need to continue to work with the Americans in all sorts of areas and this has been a difficult experience, but we need to bring the Americans back to working with their allies, taking account of our views.

“But we can’t somehow invent a foreign policy without the Americans so we’ve got to take a deep breath and do some frank talking to Joe Biden and then get back to work with him.”

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